Turning Mistakes into Learning Opportunities Hear how Norm Theard, owner, of The Quarter Creole Cuisine, continues his family's legacy through authentic comfort food and service to match.
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Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.
There's something unique about The Quarter Creole Cuisine. It isn't just that it serves up authentic Creole food in the suburbs outside Los Angeles, but when you walk inside, you don't even feel like you're in California anymore.
As described by Yelp reviewer Steff B., "Once you walk through those doors, you get a little sense of being transported to a place that's very different and very creative and maybe a little bit magical. There's something a little extra going on there."
Steff praised the decor, including the fabrics and art, for heightening her overall experience and making her visit special. "It really is a full space that is designed to embrace the culture of the food that they're presenting and serving, which is nice because it's not just the experience of eating food—it's the entire dining experience."
Sometimes details like this can go unnoticed by restaurant-goers, but Steff homed in on what Owner and Executive Chef Norm Theard very intentionally implemented into his business—an encompassing feeling of authenticity, especially when it comes to the food.
"It's a tribute," shared Norm. "The restaurant is a tribute to my mom and our cuisine. It's Creole food. We're all Creole folks. Mom and dad were born and raised in New Orleans, and food's really important to us."
Staying true to the flavors of New Orleans and Creole cuisine might sound easy, but the creativity and innovation demanded by the restaurant world can be at odds with this mission. To maintain authenticity while creating new dishes, Norm ensures everything passes the family test.
"It's all about trying to keep it true to what my mom cooked and what my grandmother cooked and what my great-grandmother cooked. I'm not going to ever bring any ingredients into our kitchen that my mom couldn't get her hands on. So I'll come up with new dishes often, but it's something that my mom could have come up with. That's what keeps it true. And it keeps the smells together when you walk in it. So I can tell people it's Creole, and it is Creole."
Norm's commitment to authenticity extends to how his staff engages with customers as well. "I don't give them a script," Norm said. "I tell them, "I want you to be yourself' because we've probably all experienced that server who had the script and said, "Hello, my name is Joe, and I'm here to be your server tonight.' And then it just feels so fake and makes them uneasy and they never really connect with you, the diner. So I tell them the exact opposite. I want you to tell them whatever you're most passionate about."
More than giving them the freedom to speak off-script, Norm encourages staff to eat every dish on the menu and form their own opinions and favorites. This arms them with the knowledge to make genuine recommendations to customers and make personal connections with them.
Immersing the staff in the culture of the restaurant this way gives them a sense of confidence and ownership, leaving diners like Steff with glowing impressions.
"I would come back here 1000%," Steff said in her review. "Our waiter was also on point with bringing not just our courses but also our plethora of dishes out in perfectly timed waves. His service was thoughtful, well-paced, and well-executed."
Positive reviews like this are music to a restaurant owner's ears because they are the result of intentional hard work behind the scenes. Norm wants each dish to be perfect—to represent Creole cuisine—which is why he won't let any learning opportunity go to waste.
"My sous chef Ian and I will always taste whatever is returned to the kitchen. Even if you stuck your fork in it, we're going to taste it, just to make sure that there's nothing wrong with it."
Sometimes Norm finds that it's just a difference of opinion, and that's okay. Because each diner's experience is important to him, he can live with a dish sent back, even if it's made exactly how it should be.
"Let it be, you know? Let them say their piece. But it's good for me to know that I'm not going to let that get to me. It might not be right for everybody, but the vast majority of the people are crazy about it."
The following insights have helped The Quarter deliver a 360-degree authentic Creole dining experience:
- Be authentic. Authenticity can make your business stand out and is important for team building and success with customers.
- Learn from your mistakes. Look at mistakes as opportunities for growth, learning, and familiarization with your food, service, and customer base.
- Put people first. Running your business with people in mind, particularly staff and customers, will help you create a complete, positive restaurant experience.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Norm and Steff, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.